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SummaryJohn Marston tops Tommy Vercetti as a great character.
The GoodLET’S TALK GAME-PLAY:
- Camera is Co-operative, it does little things to help you out when it comes to cover/etc.
- Missions are coherent and to the point, you don’t need to check notes to understand what you need to do.
- Failure and death are forgiving, they’ll put you back in the action quickly.
- Map is well-done. The in-game map and the printed map from the keep case actually each have different tips on them, using both is helpful.
- The Weapon-switching wheel is innovative, although if you’re spastic you might fumble it.
- Scaling (how big the map is and distance between points) is appropriate; a long journey feels long but is maybe 3-4 minutes.
- The auto-aim is one of the best I’ve seen, it almost makes it too easy.
- In the words of the Eidos Manual for Thief: The Dark Project “You are not a tank.” If you eat two loads of buck-shot at close range you’re dead. I like that danger.
- The physics engine is usually really good.
- They gave me my mini-games. No complaining there!
LET’S TALK GRAPHICS:
- John Marston is one bad-ass looking guy. He’s like if Clint Eastwood got in a brawl with a wolverine.
- A lot of the characters are ugly, hard-living people who I know must smell bad. I love it!
- Good palette, nice texture mapping, good perspective focus. Good job all around.
- Blood is handled in an interesting way, it stains realistically and then fades in reverse.
- Interior spaces only suffer from a slight ‘huge’ perspective. Pet peeve in most games, okay here.
- Very good attention to period clothing.
- Fire is done well, as well as realistic dynamite explosions.
LET’S TALK STORY:
- You can quote me: “Not since Yakuza (1) have I seen quite this much ‘right’ in a story.” I’ll talk about this more below in the sum-up.
- These guys did their homework about the time period. This game is just rammed full of historical, religious, and literate references that work wonderfully.
LET’S TALK SOUND:
- Gunshots, ricochets, Wilhelm screams, all great.
- The voice acting is superb. Seriously, the dialects are right, the FBI guys sound right, the NPC’s and whore’s sound right. It takes serious effort to get this right.
- The music is very fitting and dynamic. When the music spurs you on it’s doing a good job. When one of the battle theme's kicked in while I was rescuing a friend the music got the hairs on the back of my neck up. I love that!
- The random things John says when performing tasks really add to his character. Looting corpses, skinning foxes, doesn’t matter – the man is great fun to play as.
The BadLET’S TALK GAME-PLAY:
- There is a dichotomy between writing and general execution in this and most other Rockstar games. The sheer amount of people you kill in this game is terrible. It’s actually disconcerting just how many guys you kill and it makes human life and killing (a central plot focus) lose some of its kick. Bethesda is really good at scaling the amount of murder you do, Rockstar could learn a lesson from them.
- The ambient quests (activities you can do at any time, herb collecting, gold finding, hunting, trick shooting) feel too much like World of Warcraft. These are the things you had to do in WoW for crafting professions/etc. RDR doesn’t have that kind of scope to it to allow for ambient questing. I don’t need this busy work when there are better developed quests out there that I won’t play because I got bored of the game picking flowers.
- The dead-eye trick shooting wasn’t really that useful to me. The auto-aim actually out-performs it. So the specialist feature of the game is kind of underwhelming.
- Some of the AI and a bit of the engine is a little wonky. Funny Story:I was on a thin little path on the side of a cliff looking for treasure map gold. My expensive horse walked by me during the cut-scene. Already I’m thinking “Oh, you do not fall off that cliff!” I get control back, walk forward, no horse. He’s just gone. So I try to peek over the edge to see if I can see his body, and John just pitches forward off this cliff head-first. Except the physics engine can’t have that. I GLIDE at a 30 degree angle, head first, towards the river. My legs are flailing comically, and I swear he reaches up and grabs his hat before plunking into the river below. It was instant death because water is fatal. Hi-larious.
- Every other weapon on the wheel gets an upgrade except the knife. It just stood out as weird.
- Typically the engine is solid, although if enough camera-jerking is involved the textures degrade for a while.
- The default camera distance Is a little far back from what I’m used to.
- Nothing really to complain about here.
- The main storyline is the best I’ve seen since Yakuza. You want my advice; for the best experience do the main storyline all in one go. Come do the mini-stuff after or just whichever quests you think are best later. I’m not going to spoil it for you, and trust me, I haven’t.
The Bottom Line“I’m a semi-literate farmer and hired killer. I ain’t in the power game.” – John Marston
When Duke Nukem : Forever came out there was something suddenly obvious about Duke: He’s a shallow asshole character from the 90’s. He’s not cool anymore. Characters in games have evolved so much since then; it’s no longer enough to have a stereotype. I blame games like Silent Hill and Metal Gear for this, giving writing an honest hand in a character. When Rockstar gave us GTA: Vice City I was enthralled with Ray Liotta’s ‘Tommy Vercetti’ character. Since then they've been pretty decent.
They’ve upped themselves considerably with John Marston, and in many ways he makes the game worth playing. Here’s a man who grew up believing in personal freedom, following a rougish Robin Hood style bandit who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Unfortunately his idol went a little crazy. The gang left John for dead at a shootout with the law. When his wounds healed John decided to start a new life, a straight life, with his wife, daughter, and young son. The law hadn’t forgotten him though, and as the game starts the newly formed FBI is blackmailing John into rounding up members of his old gang. What this arm twisting does and how it affects John Marston is what gives his character so many nuances. Here’s a man who has little qualms about killing, trying hard to live a good life by the law despite his violent past. Now the law comes and takes his family as black-mail and forces him to hunt down his former friends. At every turn he is used by others for their own goals, and it doesn’t take much pushing before John tells you kindly that he will shoot you in the head. When the FBI commander asks him how he feels about killing an old comrade John calmly replies “I’d rather kill you 100 times instead”.
This is movie-worthy characterization. Good direction, good writing, good acting. The GTA format is rejuvenated by something this well-crafted. The timing is poignant: it is 1911 – World War I is wrapping up and the Wild West is becoming tamed. Men like John Marston have got to play by the rules now, no more free living – the government is federalising, the FBI doesn’t tolerate groups of free men doing whatever they like.
They gave this guy a backstory that is directly relevant to the plot. The writing does a great job of leaving enough mystery and ambiguity in John’s past, which is never shown but talked about frequently. It’s hard to do that well when you have flash-backs at your disposal, but here it feels right and ads tension. You see characters that you’ve been hearing about for hours for the first time and it’s exciting because you already have an idea of what they should be like, and you get to weigh them against your expectations.
And maybe best of all is the character motivation: Family. He has to turn his former family over to the law in exchange for his new one back. And he doesn’t want to; he’s being exhorted into it. You spend the whole game watching John trying to rein his patience in as he’s jerked around by people he’d gladly have killed in the past for crossing him. The point is he just wants his damn life back, and you want him to have it. When John is civil to his friends you admire and respect him for it. He calls himself a semi-literate farmer, but in reality he is well self-educated and has a wide vocabulary. He’s honest, open, and doesn’t like b.s. He’s a good man but a hard man, and he will go biblical on you with little provocation. And if John gets his family back, you get to see what you were fighting for this whole game. How often do you actually get the prize in a game?